The Horror!? U.F.O. (2012)
Posted March 1, 2013 by Denis K.
Warning: if you’re looking for a “Van Damme movie” with this one, you’ll be horribly disappointed. This is rather a movie in which Van Damme’s daughter plays a lead role and Dad pops in for a cameo, as any responsible father would.
British friends Michael (Sean Brosnan), Robin (Simon Phillips), Dana (Maya Grant), Vincent (Jazz Lintott), and American Carrie (Jean-Claude Van Damme’s daughter Bianca Bree), whom Michael just picked up, probably expected their night out on the town to end with mere hangovers the next day. They get their hangovers all right, but the following morning also finds the area they’re living in, and who knows how much of the UK, without electricity, without working phones, and without cellphone coverage. There’s also a curious encounter with a ranting tramp (Sean Pertwee in another of the film’s cameos) and his spirited yet vague ravings about the end of days. It’s more than enough to put everyone on edge, yet on the other hand, how bad can things actually be?
The next day, things become even more curious when all clocks stop and a giant UFO begins hovering in the distance. There are no aliens in sight, no directs attacks, no nothing. Still, our protagonists decide that it’s time to stock up on supplies and hole up in their house until they find something better to do. From here on out, everything fastly turns bad for everyone involved: people, it turns out, don’t need to be attacked directly to start turning on each other very quickly in a situation like this, and soon, our protagonists find themselves confronted with the vagaries of looting, violent assholes, their own violent natures, and a lot of quotidian terror.
And that’s before it turns out there are alien agents around who have taken human form, and the military attacks the alien ship. In between, there’s also time for JCVD to pop in, talk into the camera as is late period Van Damme’s wont, have one actually pretty awesome action scene, and die.
Given that U.F.O.‘s director and writer Dominic Burns was responsible for the pretty damn bad Airborne, I did not go into the film with much optimism. Lowered expectations can lead to positive surprises, but I’m not sure U.F.O. actually needed these lowered expectations to make a positive impression.
Early on U.F.O. is a rather frustrating watch: Burns introduces his main character’s in what may be the most annoying club scene I’ve had to witness in a movie in years, making them look like the kind of total twats you really, really do not want to spend the next ninety minutes with, shakes his camera like an epileptic or a found footage movie, rolls and shimmies and waves his camera around for no particular reason, likes to tilt the camera sideways with no rhyme or reason, and then adds utterly superfluous short flash-forwards in case there’d be anyone left in the audience not already cursing the director after fifteen minutes movie.
Even later, Burns doesn’t let go completely of these directorial tics whose presence I find as much puzzling as I find them annoying, but he does calm down a bit and keeps the shaking to the more dramatic and action scenes (though the choreography of the latter really suggests it would have been quite okay to film them so we can actually see what’s going on), and leaves off the flash forwards (here, have a random shot of Jean-Claude staring into the camera) completely after half of the film is through.
By that point, a few other things about U.F.O. have become better and clearer too. The badly introduced characters turn out to be a bit more complex and interesting than expected, feeling – though they are based on clear character types – more real and fleshed out than the clichés that often fill our apocalyptic SF/horror films. This even leads to some actual surprises later on: U.F.O. turns out not to be a horror movie where you can tell after ten minutes who will live, who will die, and who will croak first. And that’s not something I can say about many low or high budget horror and SF movies.
Burns’s script is also surprisingly interesting, with a basic survival plot that keeps completely inside genre rules and tropes but – once the film gets going – does quite a few clever things with them and uses the film’s clearly few resources with creativity and imagination, building an invasion (or is it?) scenario that feels more plausible than its actual silliness would suggest. Even the Van Damme cameo is used with dignity and style (in this the film is the antithesis to his appearance in The Expendables 2), giving the man opportunity to do that glowering into the camera thing he has learned to do so well over the years and have a short but sweet fight. Van Damme’s appearance even feels like an actual part of the movie and not something that was shoe-horned in because (one suspects) casting Bree (who is cute and an okay-ish actress here) also provided half a day of JCVD.
When Burns isn’t trying to burn the audience’s eyeballs out with the shaking and the tilting, he has some rather fine directorial moments. The scene with Dana trapped inside the darkened house with something that may or may not be in there with her is particularly suspenseful and tight, even. In fact, it’s at that point (or perhaps two or three scenes earlier) when U.F.O. turns from “neat with moments of horrible direction” into a really likeable low budget movie that’s rather exciting, a bit clever, and absolutely worth it to get through the first thirty or forty minutes.
The Horror!? is a regular cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name. In case that isn’t enough, you’ll find even more of his work archived at Wtf-Film.com.